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Shefflin on cloud nine

CATS star admits his record ninth All-Ireland win is extra special.

IT'S customary on these occasions of Kilkenny All-Ireland wins (and they have been plentiful) for some or other member of management or playing staff to decree that it is impossible to pick a medal from their stuffed pockets and say that it, rather than the others jangling casually around, is more important or special.

Yesterday was different, though.

Henry Shefflin won his ninth All-Ireland medal (as did Noel Hickey, although two of those -- yesterday included -- were from the bench) and in doing so, surpassed John Doyle and Christy Ring in the pantheon of the GAA's most decorated player.


"Yeah, people have talked to me about it. They have said they'd love to see me win it," he admitted afterwards when the waiting media managed to pry him away from a casual drink with Joe Canning, of all people, in the Players' Lounge in Croke Park.

"I'll be honest with you; I decided to say, 'Yeah, I'd love to win it'. There was no point trying to hide from it. It was a great motivation from me. Why would you hide from something like that.

"Look, I'll be straight up and honest with you, last year was a very sweet victory because of the injury more than anything else -- there were major concerns whether I would get back there again -- but this one just encapsulates my whole career more than anything else so I definitely have to say this one is pretty sweet."

Understandably, praise from his manager was effusive and flowing. Side by side, Shefflin and Brian Cody have won nine All-Irelands in 13 seasons, a remarkable sequence of winning which will need a full stop before it is fully appreciated.

"He hasn't just played for Kilkenny," Cody put it. "He has done everything for Kilkenny, he's led for Kilkenny, he's scrapped for Kilkenny and that's the difference in Henry Shefflin and players who just got out to get on the scoreboard and be the top scorer or whatever it was. Regardless, his work-rate is immense."

Yet if it was an understandably memorable day for Shefflin, the same could also be said for young Walter Walsh, or 'Wally', as is written on his hurleys.

Twelve years and 61 Championship appearances divide them but the towering Tullogher man was just as influential as his decorated team-mate yesterday on what was his first appearance in any competition for Kilkenny at senior level.

As he said himself afterwards, he hadn't even played a 70-minute match before and as it happened, he only lasted an hour before being called ashore to rapturous applause.

"Yeah it was obviously a big shock to me, I'd never played for the Kilkenny seniors before so it was a big shock," he admitted, still trying to process the magnitude of the day.

"I was nervous going out but sure I suppose it's an All-Ireland final, most lads would be nervous ... I'm still finding it hard to come to terms with it but hopefully it will kick in during the week.

"But I had a few lads having a quiet word in my ear. The likes of Henry had a few words with me, David Herity, Larkin was very good. They prepared me for the match."

A dream debut, then.

"I was a bit anxious early on. A few balls came in and they hopped out of my hand. But the point, I thought, settled me down. So I was delighted with it."

Still, it was the visual, tangible proof that Cody does, in fact, reward form in training ... even in situations as pressurised and unique as All-Ireland finals.

Not that he saw it as a massive call, though.

"It wasn't really big at all, to be honest about it," he insisted. "You look at a fella and you see how he's going. He's fairly imposing anyway for starters. He has a huge amount going for him. The opportunity didn't really arise for him to start any other match even though he was very much in the running.

"If this was the first round of the Leinster Championship, there wouldn't be a huge amount of speculation about it. But because it's All-Ireland final, it's a big thing. But he hurled himself onto the team and you could either be afraid of it and say 'you can't do that' or you do what you think is the right thing and I think he proved his worth today."

So did Cody have anything special to say to his latest young hero afterwards?

"Ah, he just said well done and asked me was I alright to play Walsh Cup next year."